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MEDFORD LAKES – Jen Heicklen and her daughters had an idea a year ago to bring to their town a walk for a cause close to their hearts.
It was a hit.
Now, the New Jersey Walks for Tourette Syndrome will return to Burlington County.
The Sept. 18 5K walk/family fun run will benefit the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders (NJCTS), along with its education outreach program.
The program delivers professional training to educators and health care providers, and provides anti-bullying and youth leadership training, as well as college scholarships for high school students diagnosed with Tourette.
People with Tourette – an inherited neurological disorder characterized by uncontrollable movements or sounds known as tics – frequently have learning disabilities, obsessive-compulsive disorder, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Heicklen and daughters Anna, 12, and Ava, 11, who both have Tourette, give back to NJCTS by organizing the walk in Medford Lakes.
Heicklen says NJCTS helped her family through the “pain” of facing the diagnosis and gave her daughters much-needed confidence and support.
She and the girls came up with the idea of having a walk after hearing about walks in other parts of the state.
Heicklen said the walk is more than a fundraiser; it’s about “building my kids’ confidence.”
“It has been a long road in the Heicklen house, just as in any home where there are special-need issues,” Heicklen said. “The difficulty is not in the tics themselves, but in seeing the girls’ lack of confidence when ridiculed or excluded.”
Heicklen said her daughters find strength in educating their peers and community on Tourette. “Our girls have learned to advocate for themselves and those who share their disorder.”
Anna and Ava are youth advocates for NJCTS and have received extensive training about spreading awareness. Both are certified to speak at schools, organizations and clubs throughout the state, which they do often.
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Anna said sharing the fact she had Tourette with her class last year made her “a lot more confident” when talking about the disorder with friends and others.
According to statistics, as many as 1 in 100 children exhibit symptoms of Tourette, with onset of symptoms, usually beginning around age 7.
“The awareness and self-empowerment that comes to the kids putting this event together is remarkable,” NJCTS Executive Director Faith W. Rice said in a release. “We are proud of the children and teens who make it their mission to help peers with TS and those younger who will be diagnosed in the future.”
Celeste E. Whittaker; (856) 486-2437; firstname.lastname@example.org
IF YOU GO
New Jersey Walks for Tourette Syndrome will kick off at 7 a.m. Sept. 18 at P.J. Whelihan’s, 61 Stokes Road in Medford Lakes, with check-in. Vocalist Dawson Coyle of Vineland will perform, and there will be a paddle-board live auction.
The event begins at 8:30 a.m., rain or shine, and registration is $25. This year’s route will include more of the area’s lakes and cabins.
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